Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has vetoed the controversial bill that gave Nassau County the ability to sue ordinary citizens who harass police and other first responders.
In her veto message, Curran called the bill well-intentioned but said it left “open the possibility that it would chill the rights of citizens to peaceably assemble and freely express their views.”
The bill was first proposed by the Democratic caucus, but was championed by Republicans who said it merely gave police a civil pathway to sue for criminal acts. The bill used language from the state’s penal law to define harassment as acts designed to “seriously annoy.” It empowered the county to sue for as much as $50,000 and also lowered the standard of proof of harassment below that used for hate crimes.
After the bill passed the legislature, Curran said she would seek the advice of New York’s Attorney General. In a letter, Rick Sawyer, Special Counsel for Hate Crimes for the AG’s office, wrote, “Even if courts ultimately throw out frivolous lawsuits against legitimate protesters, the threat of onerous and expensive litigation is likely to chill protected speech.”
Sawyer added that the bill would likely face many legal challenges that the county alone would have to pay to defend.
Legislator Joshua Lafazan, the bill’s sponsor, is unregistered with any political party, but caucuses with Democrats. He said the bill was aimed at protecting first responders, but that he respects the Attorney General’s legal opinion and will not seek to override Curran’s veto.
Nassau’s police unions did not immediately respond to requests for comment regarding the letters.
In social media posts, civil right’s groups said they will be targeting those who voted for the bill in the upcoming election.